Being partially descended from the ancient Britons myself, I looked on the opportunity to try Welsh whisky – the first produced since the nineteenth century – with relish. The people at Penderyn are aware that their provenance makes for perfect public relations material and they make the most of it: the packaging is eye-catching but elegant, repeatedly reminding you that this is aur Cymru, Welsh gold.
I’m yet to try their standard expression. The key to understanding this particular whisky is the madeira finish. There’s no age statement, but since the distillery itself is less than eight years old this is a comparatively young whisky (particularly for a single malt). It’s spent some time in a Buffalo Trace bourbon cask, and been finished in the madeira; this means it’s likely spent a proportionately fairly large amount of time in the madeira cask, which has affected it accordingly.
The nose is immediately and overwhelmingly fruity. At first, it’s like a rich fruit salad: apple and fresh pineapple predominate, quickly joined by juicy papaya. This fresh fruitiness soon segues into more processed sugars. Bright banana custard bridges the two until the dominant characteristic has become toffee or fudge. This flowers into a scent that is simultaneously more mature and slightly zingy: treacle toffee and bubblegum, or a tantalising brandy butter.
The palate is less florid than the nose while remaining substantially similar. Sherbet sensations join with banana at first, before being replaced by a mellow butterscotch. If you go back to the nose, the butterscotch note is now obvious, as is the sweet smell of madeira – which has become clearer with the palate as pointer. The muted spice to the nose that at first might have been cinnamon is now more nutmeg, matching the taste, which develops into brown sugar at the second try.
The finish is sharp compared with the taste, but not surprising at 46% ABV. The sharpness masks a honeydew melon, but that too quickly vanishes into a grassy, acidic finish. I can’t agree with the website publicity that describes a “long-lasting” finish; rather, it seems to vanish, leaving behind a curiously briny flavour, verging at times on that of cooked, sliced meat. Extremely curious.
The addition of water also seems to cast an unusual spell on this whisky. The nose is more richly banana-scented, together with a creamy white chocolate, but otherwise seems to have become almost unidimensional. The palate becomes grassier and brinier, but seems altogether more juvenile, like new spirit: sharper, but with a less developed flavour (which is curious, since we’re diluting the alcohol). The change is a surprise, but I’ll generously put it down to the vagaries of youth. You’ll likely either love the sweet fruitiness of the Penderyn’s madeira-finished expression or find it a little tediously blatant. I find it enjoyable, if rather rich; I think we can expect greater things from the Brecon Beacons in years to come.
Nose 20 Taste 18 Finish 15 Balance 18